.... Whatever the outcome of this year’s election will be a defining moment for our country. In a democracy, no country develops beyond the level of its people.
There are many who argue that Liberia is not ready for democracy. There is a simple logic behind this argument. The idea of democracy is rooted around the notion that the people should have the right to decide their leaders, since in fact, the individual, the community represents the best advocate and aspiration of its own best interest. Hence the people must be the best vehicle to determine the set of leaders that will manifest their best interests. Have the Liberian electorate exercised good judgment in the election of national leaders?
To answer this question, let us look at some basis, the socio-economic landscape, and previous elections, as a matter of hindsight. Who are the people? Liberia’s most recent census put the total population at 5.2 million people. Of that number, the National Elections Commission of Liberia registered, using fingerprint identification, a total number of 2,471,617 citizens, representing the total electorate for this year’s presidential and general elections slated for October 10, 2023.
The overwhelming majority of the people live in the urban areas with over 80% living in less than 10 miles of water and arable land, yet food insecurity remains a major problem in Liberia. According to The World Factbook (July 2023), 531,000 persons are at risk of acute food security, whereas only 28.1% of Liberia’s land is being cultivated for agriculture with only 2.1% utilized for permanent crop.
The service sector is underperforming as major economic enablers like electricity penetration persist at only 29.8% (World Bank Data) of the population, in spite of the significant national and donor funding on the expansion of utility. Coupled with Liberia’s dependency ratio of 79.9% (The World Factbook), most youth of working age remain in a state of long term unemployment. With the exception of ArcelorMittal, it will be difficult to find a private company in Liberia that employs more than 1,000 Liberians.
Is Liberia doomed to economic degradation as it seems? The answer is no. No matter the circumstances, countries have the relevant enablers of growth only if they can be harnessed by the best minds fully dedicated to the best interests of the people. There are examples of countries in different conditions of depravity because of the absence of the natural advantages of growth known to most people that have excelled beyond expectation because of the application of insight, knowledge, patriotism, and leadership.
In 2018, I authored a caution on the need for leadership in Liberia as an imperative for growth and development. Most of what I asked for went unheeded. I have lived in Liberia for most of the past six years and witnessed the economic neglect and missed opportunities that have ensured that we remain a deprived country in an era of enormous human development. There is hardly any area of sustainable growth and development in Liberia beyond the personal properties acquired and developed by President Weah and his followers.
Liberia’s airports have the lowest number of flight calls in the world. Despite our natural gift of 70,000 nautical miles of marine resources in our ocean, not to speak of our vast inland waterways, we still import seafood and the vast array of opportunities for employment in fishery sits dormant. In spite of our vast arable land and large youthful population, there is hardly any national leadership to get our youth employed in mass agriculture production. Most of our urban youth wallow in idleness or under the influence of drugs imported into our country right before our eyes. I could go on from one sector to the other but the point of lack of leadership and a government that is deliberate in formulating workable solutions to the national ills of our country remains ever present.
In 2017, Sen. George Weah made no effort to make a compelling case to the Liberian electorate as to the reasons why he was best suited to lead Liberia into a period of growth and development. The soccer star committed to no debate or interviews to unveil his plans or submit to any scrutiny. For those of us who are keen observers of national politics, it was already clear to us that Weah’s tenure at the Senate was without event, yet the electorate gave him the numbers that enable him to assent to the presidency. But did they?
Voters or Political Apathy
There has always been this erroneous notion that President Weah was elected by a majority of the people of Liberia. Nothing could be further from the truth. President Weah was elected by one of the lowest minorities to ever elect a president in the recent history of Liberia
In deriving the final results of Liberian elections, the National Elections Commission often compares the outcome with the total valid vote cast. Hence in the first round of the 2017 Elections, George Weah won with 38.37% of the vote cast. In reality, the number of votes he got represented 27.3% of the total registered voters, that is, just over a quarter of those legally registered to vote. In the December 2017 Runoff, he was only able to get 732,185 of the 2.184 million registered votes, representing 33.53%, but enough to give him a win by a simple majority over the only contestant, Joseph Nyemah Boakai, who got 20.97% of the total registered voters.
In the Runoff election, 44.21% of the total registered voters never voted. The election of Liberia presidents with the slimmest of minorities has been a common phenomenon for all the elections since 1985, except for 1997 when Charles Taylor won 62.34% of the total registered votes.
Why is it that just over 25% of the legally registered voters are deciding who becomes president of Liberia? If you consider the number of people who registered but never turned out to vote, it will become clear that more than anything, Liberia’s presidents are being decided by political apathy of the citizenry. Political apathy is the reluctance and indifference that voters feel when they sense that the political system does not work for them and any attempt to influence it will be fruitless. In essence, the voters have lost trust in their ability to influence politics and how their society is governed.
President George Weah’s 2017 Winning Pie.
Proliferation of Candidates
A second element that allows for a slim majority to elect the Liberian president is the proliferation of presidential candidates. Whereas the Liberian constitution sets an exceptionally low bar for the eligibility of president, it is prudent that a democratic election system be such that the elected candidate has a popular vote amongst a cross-section of the population.
When presidents are elected by a small minority, they turn to cater to the interest of that minority vis-à-vis the greater interest of the larger population. Already, twenty sets of presidential and vice presidential candidates have been certified for the October 2023 Liberian Elections. Unfortunately, this large list of candidates will naturally spread the votes across the field and increase the likelihood of an unpopular candidate with a dedicated fee to win the election.
Fortunately, the constitution requires a 50% plus one win in the first round to ensure automatic victory, but the whole exercise of a presidential runoff is not the best use of public resources. It would be ideal to bring into fruition a legal way by which the presidential contestants can be reduced to a reasonable size that would allow for an elected president to acquire a mandate of the people through popular vote, rather than the slim minority that has given Liberia its presidents of late. Most Liberian candidates carry the same ideology anyway.
Time for a Paradigm Shift
Any serious candidate would work overtime to inspire renewed hope in the Liberia electorate in order to undermine the sense of political apathy and get a greater number of the people excited about the prospects of a new equitable and just Liberia. This will require persistent effective communication and the resources to deliver it to all the people. Liberia is again at a crossroads.
By any standard, Liberia has been poorly led over the entire post-war period, if you consider the level of international goodwill and the anxiety of the population to move the country to a better place. One of the most common occurrences in a country coming out of war is an economic boom, a resurgence of patriotism, and a renewed sense of national duty and identity. Liberia still struggles to reconcile its people and stand up its economy, as many of our natural advantages that can be easily notch into engines of growth remain dormant and unattended; Liberia still suffers the absence of its best minds at the helm of decision-making and leadership at scale. All Liberia’s national enterprises are in states of minimum to no performance while those entrusted to lead offer excuses for why things are the way they are.
Liberia needs a sea change; Liberia needs leaders that have the skillset to think through what is necessary to get the country working for all its people. Most of what Liberia needs to prosper is already available. Missing are good leaders at the top who understand how things work; leaders who are not sectorial or divisive; leaders who understand the value of merit and accountability; leaders who are not too poor as to be tempted to plunder public resources in order to first position themselves. Leaders who are not entangled in suspicion of atrocities against the people involved in public corruption.
There are some who would say that Alexander B. Cummings is small in body, and does not have the personality or a tribal constituency, as though these are disqualifying attributes if they were true. What I can say is that I am truly a patriotic Liberian who cares a lot about my country and its people. I have been around the world a bit and have seen what works and what does not work. I know Liberia and its potential very well. I cannot speak for the other candidates, but I know Alex Cummings. I have studied the man and have collaborated with him for nearly seven years. No candidate is everything, but I have no doubt that Alexander B. Cummings is the best fit to lead Liberia at this time in a brighter future. It would not take a year of his leadership for Liberians to begin to realize the dividend of good governance.
Do not be indifferent to the failings of our country. Ask yourself the tough questions and be governed by the dictates of your conscience, not a mirage that is someone else’s idea. This election, like all others, is about you, your family, and your community. It is about the very wellbeing of your country. Join in the election process and cast a vote, being fully aware that in a democracy, people deserve the leaders they get, good or bad. It is that time again in our politics when we are given the chance to decide in one vote the direction our country will go in the next six years. Whether we vote or fail to vote, there can be no excuse; we are responsible for the fate of our country, our posterity.
Whatever the outcome of this year’s election will be a defining moment for our country. In a democracy, no country develops beyond the level of its people. If we aspire to ensure there is electricity for all, pipe-borne water for all, good health care for all, blind and equal justice for all, law, order, and security for all, vibrant economic environment for all, good education for all, we will manifest that aspiration in the way we vote. If we vote for those who public knowledge has unveiled do not have the agency to achieve the lofty public goods enumerated above, we would have told the world the level of our citizenry.
We should then have no one to blame for our degradation as even the Bible reminds us, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7).
About the Author
Cyrus L. Gray, Jr. is an International Supply Chain & Maritime Consultant and Published Author. He is a graduate of Cuttington University College (1989), World Maritime University (2000) and University of Houston - College of Technology (2016).